U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

LA Times photographer targeted with pepper spray while covering Minneapolis protests

Incident Details

Date of Incident
May 30, 2020
Case number
Case Status
Type of case


Was the journalist targeted?
REUTERS/Adam Bettcher

Minnesota State Patrol advanced on protesters in Minneapolis after the murder of George Floyd on May 30, 2020. An officer directly pepper-sprayed Los Angeles Times photojournalist Carolyn Cole that day, causing a chemical burn and corneal abrasion.

— REUTERS/Adam Bettcher
April 5, 2024 - Update

LA Times reporters reach $1.2 million settlement with Minnesota State Patrol

Journalists Carolyn Cole and Molly Hennessy-Fiske reached a $1.2 million settlement with the Minnesota State Patrol and dismissed their lawsuit against the agency on April 5, 2024, according to court records reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

Both journalists were on assignment for the Los Angeles Times on May 30, 2020, documenting the protests that broke out in Minneapolis following the murder of George Floyd. According to the lawsuit they filed a year later, Cole was temporarily blinded after being directly pepper-sprayed, causing a chemical burn and corneal abrasion, and Henessy-Fiske was struck in the left leg with crowd-control munitions at least five times.

In a statement to the Times, Cole said that no journalist should have to face the type of attacks they suffered at the hands of the state police.

“I hope this ruling, upholding our 1st Amendment rights, will help to protect other photographers and reporters trying to do their jobs,” Cole wrote. “I appreciate the support of my colleagues and the hard work of our attorneys who fought for this positive outcome.”

Hennessy-Fiske wrote in a statement posted on social media that the majority of the settlement will go toward attorneys fees resulting from the lengthy legal battle. The journalists will split $200,000 from the award, according to the Times, which added that the settlement did not include an admission of wrongdoing on the part of law enforcement.

May 25, 2021 - Update

Los Angeles Times photographer sues Minnesota State Patrol following assaults at protest

Los Angeles Times journalists Carolyn Cole and Molly Hennessy-Fiske filed a lawsuit against five Minnesota State Patrol officers on May 25, 2021, seeking information and accountability for attacks they suffered while covering protests the year before.

Cole, a photojournalist, and Hennessy-Fiske, a staff writer, were among the more than 30 journalists assaulted while covering protests in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 30, 2020, following the death of George Floyd during an arrest in the city five days prior.

According to the journalists’ suit, State Patrol officers advanced on a group of journalists assembled across the street from the Minneapolis Police Fifth Precinct. Henessy-Fiske was struck in the left leg with crowd-control munitions at least five times, which left her bruised and bloodied, according to the suit. Cole was temporarily blinded after being directly pepper sprayed, causing a chemical burn and corneal abrasion.

“None of the defendants or any other officers issued any warnings to the press group that force would be used before they started firing,” the lawsuit reads. “Both photojournalism and written or spoken words play vital roles in the freedom of the press, particularly in such a tumultuous time in our nation’s history with regard to police excessive use of force and unauthorized use of deadly force.”

The suit requests punitive damages to be paid by each of three unidentified State Patrol officers, Cpt. Joseph Dwyer and Lt. Timothy Salto, as well as the journalists’ costs and attorneys fees.

May 30, 2020

Los Angeles Times photographer Carolyn Cole was one of more than a dozen journalists fired at with crowd-control munitions and pepper spray while covering protests in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 30, 2020.

Protests began in Minnesota on May 26, sparked by a video showing a police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, during an arrest the day before. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Half an hour after the 8 p.m. curfew began, Minnesota State Patrol officers fired pepper spray and rubber bullets at a group of at least 20 journalists including Cole, according to Cole’s account of the incident in the LA Times.

Cole wrote that many of the journalists were wearing clearly marked press vests, and that another journalist loudly identified the group as journalists. Cole wrote that an officer came very close to the group and fired pepper spray, and that she “could feel the full force of the pepper spray go into my left ear and eye.”

Cole wrote that a local resident helped her get to a hospital for assistance after being pepper-sprayed.

More than three dozen journalists were assaulted, arrested or had equipment damaged while covering protests that night. The Minneapolis Police Department, Minnesota State Police, and Minnesota National Guard did not reply to emailed requests for comment about these incidents.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documents journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas or who had their equipment damaged in the course of reporting. Find all incidents related to Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality protests here.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].